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Economic hardship

Unlike the rest of Europe, the Eastern bloc did not benefit from the billions of dollars in American aid under the European Recovery or Marshall Plan. The area had also suffered considerable economic damage as a result of the Second World War. The USSR had lost 27 million dead and Poland 25% of its population (6m). In addition, large parts of eastern Europe had always been based on agriculture, with limited industry.

The introduction of Soviet-style central economic planning and collectivised agriculture meant that eastern Europe followed a completely different economic course to the western world. Shortages of food and raw material, and the lack of economic freedom were important causes of resentment. The contrast between East and West was most apparent in Berlin. Before 1961, East Berliners could travel freely to West Berlin. The attraction of greater wealth and political freedom resulted in 2.7 million East Germans fleeing to West Berlin by the time the Berlin Wall was erected.

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